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Looking back

I find myself back in Winnipeg, in -30 degrees Celsius weather, getting back into nordic skiing.  Memories of the trip are a bit of a blur.

I recently set the background on my computer screen to rotate through pictures from the trip, which helps me remember many little experiences, and how different each day was from the days before. We saw so much that it’s hard for the memory to bring back individual experiences without a little help from photographs.
I had promised to produce videos in English, French and German featuring interviews with fellow riders to give a picture of what the ride is like for the folks on the tour. Here is the English video; working on the editing brought back wonderful memories.

Day 90 Last morning in Tokyo

I took the subway see the wholesale fish market, having read reviews that remind tourists that this is a working market; not a tourist venue, so not to get run over by the workers loading fish!
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A fun place to see a huge variety of fish and sea food and watch the fish vendors at work; selling, bargaining, cutting fish, lugging boxes, and chatting.  There were some big tuna on offer.  Interesting to see how carefully they handle the handle the tuna; there is almost a little ceremony before they cut a piece out for a customer, consisting of a discussion, cleaning the fish, cleaning the knife, and verifying the place to cut.
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They also seem to use all of the fish; I saw one man cutting the bits of meat off a gigantic tuna head.
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It was a very busy place; mostly men working, some women in the accounting booths.  Had to step out of the way for people an machines doing their business, but the workers seem content to work around the tourists. 

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I went over to an adjacent building where vegetable wholesalers operate, and found a much quieter, calmer atmosphere, and a higher proportion of women engaged in the business.  Some bulk vegetables and some fancy stuff; beautifully packaged melons, strawberries, truffles….
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Next up was a visit to  a shrine which is a “must see” tourist destination, complete with a large tourist shopping area in the adjacent streets.  Despite the rainy weather, there was a good crowd; a mix of tourists and worshippers.  The whole thing looked artificial compared to temples in the rest of Asia.  Less decoration, less wear and tear, less incense, but just as much selling of devotional objects, lots of opportunities to deposit money in boxes to support the temple, and signs / baricades everywhere to tell people what to do.   
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Just as I was catching the train to the airport, the sun poked through the clouds for a minute, but no chance of seeing Mt Fuji, as the clouds and rain resumed in due course.

Day 89 Second day in Tokyo

Woke up to more rain and cold weather.  Decided to tour some of the art museums, hoping to learn some more about the background on Japanese wood block prints.  Headed for Ueno Park, just north of my hotel.   Passed by a local shrine on the way; interesting to see how people appear to leave wooden blocks or paper messages, presumably for whatever they are looking for help on.
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Walked by what appeared to be an old fashioned wooden house in the middle of an otherwise modernized neighbourhood.
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No luck at the National Museum, which has a second floor dedicated to Japanese art, because that floor was closed to set up a new exhibit.  Took a quick look at the exhibits in the rest of the museum, and then braved the rain and cold to take a subway to the other side of town to see a small museum which is dedicated to wood block prints.  That museum did have a small show of prints, focused on prints linked to theatre and poetry. 
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Walked through a shopping area on my way back to the hotel.  The Tokyo shoppers are so restrained compared to their Southern Asian counterparts; less crowds, less buzz and less hussle.  Not just outside — where it was cold and rainy, but inside the malls too. 
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Day 88 Tokyo

I deposited my baggage at the left luggage counter at the airport, and headed into town with just a carry-on bag.  My hotel had provided excellent instructions for transportation by train and taxi, so I got there shortly after 10 am.  To my amazement, they had a room ready for me, so I was able to shower,  freshen up and get organized. 

Tokyo was cold (about 8 degrees) and threatening rain, so I headed out with my umbrella to find lunch and explore the Imperial Gardens, realizing it was not a great day for walking in a park, but I would have fallen asleep in a museum!
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Remarkable to see how the construction of the walls in the Imperial Gardens was so similar to the walls in the Cuzco area of  Peru.  They had told us there that the Japanese had studied the ancient Inca methods for building walls that resist earth quakes, and here was the result.
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I had an appointment at 4 to go see the Canadian Emassy compound where my dad had been detained with all his colleagues for the first nine months of the  second world war.  Ambassador Clugston kindly showed me around the reception areas and the grounds.   I recognized some of the features of the house and the garden from the pictures we found in dad’s files.
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Figured out the subway to get back to the hotel, and retired early to catch up  on my sleep.

Day 87 Second day in Singapore

The weather forecast sounded quite dry, and I wanted to make the most of my last day in tropical temperatures, so I caught a cab to the Botanical Gardens after my sidewalk breakfast.
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The gardens are in a large park with no admission, so it is  well used by people strolling, jogging and picniking.  The highlight of the park is the Orchid garden, which does charge a fee,  so it is more populated by tourists.
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What a show.  A huge variety of orchids, each in profusion.  Lovely light filtering through the trees overhead, so relatively cool even at noon.  A feast of colours which makes any other garden look rather tame.

Went to the Museum of Asian Civilizations after the garden, whose collection covers much of Sout East Asia.  Nicely displayed.
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The museum is on the Singapore river, close to the fnancial centre.  It used to be a thriving harbour, but that was “cleaned up”, and now there is a rather sterile promenade on either side of the river.  Lots of people walk up and down the promenade, and I found one group of women that was having fun taking pictures around a set of sculptures.
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There is a row of restaurants with open terraces overlooking the river.  Lonely planet described these as overpriced but worth the splurge for the view, so  I decided to treat myself to a riverside sunset view dinner.  Lonely Planet was right; all the touts promoting their respective restaurants just about persuaded me to get out of that area, but I resisted the urge to bolt, and sat down for an ordinary but expensive meal with a great view, since it was my last night in town.
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Caught a taxi out to the airport and flew the red-eye flight to Tokyo, arriving at 9 in the morning.

Day 86 Exploring Singapore

I am working from memory here, because I am way behind in writing up my daily report.

On my first day in Singapore, I found a nice local restaurant across the street from the hotel where I could sit at a table on the sidewalk and buy eggs, toast and coffee.  Great way to start the day; I was glad not to have access to a buffet, because I have to slow down the eating now that the biking is over.

I decided to dedicate the day to visiting the South East Asia Biennale, which is spread across several museums, so I had the opportunity to visit the main exhibits of the hosting museums as well.  This biennale is about art, not architecture.  Each piece is a presentation that takes up some part of a room.  Generally speaking, I found the quality of the work to be very high, and although much of it was abstract, they were generally quite accessible.  A number of them relied on electronic media, and there were a couple that stood out in that category.  My favourite had dozens of images of dancing characters projected onto individual panels of semi-tranparent glass in a darkened room.  Before going into the room, a young museum worker warned me to walk with care until my eyes adjusted.   I stepped in, and it looked like a dark room full of dancing ghosts, some human, some other beings, all dancing to the same erie music.  Once my eyes adapted, I could walk among them, watching each in turn from either side.  Remarkable.
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In another darkened room, the images of individual people were projected onto cut-outs of their form with speakers playing their audio.  Each was standing and eating street food, and then describing what they had eaten.  It was like walking into a cocktail party; Again, I could walk among them and watch them perform.
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Lots of other kinds of pieces too, many very thought provoking.  Fun to see them in the context of the other artifacts in those museums.  Remarkable how much more stimulating it was to see the variety of biennale pieces, v. touring the more typical museum exhibits.
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There are a lot of nice architectural features on buildings in Singapore.  The range of buildings is extremely diverse, but it seems to work.  Those buildings that stand out do so by including nice features, not by being exceptionally showy; a number of buildings had nice surprises. One high rise by a park had a nuber of large teraces full of greenery.  Another restored building had brightly painted shutters in a pattern of solid colours. 
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Went for dinner that night to “Little India”, which was not as lively as similar quarters in Malaysia, but found a good meal .with nice service and a sidewalk table.
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Day 85 KL to Singapore by bus

I said goodbye to all my fellow travellers at breakfast, as they prepared to board a bus to get out of KL, and start riding about 55km down the road. 

I am leaving early because my return flight was not going to allow me to visit Singapore, and I was going to fly through Tokyo without visiting the city.  So, rather than spend another few days riding in Malaysia, I made plans to have a couple days in each of Singapore and Tokyo to see the sights.

On their way to the bus, the gang had to step around street hawkers who had spread tarps on the sidewalk and were selling everything from watches to kitchen wares on the street until 9 am.
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I had made arrangements for an “express” bus to Singapore with the hotel tourist bureau.  Or so I thought.  My “express” ride was not as fast or easy as I had hoped.  If I were back in KL, I would complain to the hotel tours desk man.  The express bus left 40 minutes late; I had carried my luggage (which includes all my gear plus my bike in a box) into the bus station to the appointed gate, but then we were told to walk back out to the plaza in front of the station to get on the bus.  It then stopped at another bus station on the edge of town, blowing another 30 minutes.  Then, in Johore, it went to the local bus station, where we were told to get out and transfer to another bus, lugging the baggage into the bus, and finding standing room only.  That dropped us at the Malaysian border.  Escalator not working, long walk plus stairs.  No instructions as to where to meet the bus, so wandering around looking for the right place.  Finally get on a city bus to get across the causeway.  Another long walk at the Singapore customs, and no indication where to catch the bus.  Helpful man points me to the right line, but have to wait 30 minutes for next bus to come.  That bus dropped me pretty close to my hotel after a full day of travel.

I had a lovely shower, cleaned up and headed out to take advantage of what little daylight was left.  When it began to rain, I went inside, where I once again found lots of shops and lots of shoppers!
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I found a local food court with lots of selection, where I enjoyed some ginger beef and a beer, plus some banana fritters for desert. Those cooks work at a frenetic pace to serve their customers as quickly as possible!
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Day 84 Rest Day in Kuala Lumpur

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Started the day with a bus tour that took us out to the Batu caves and a tour of the city.  We had an excellent guide who talked a lot about the history of Malaysia and the current political situation.  Very helpful.
The Batu caves are famous because they have become an important Hindu pilgrimage place.  There is an annual festival in February, and even today there were a fair number of Hindu visitors, including people carrying their babies up to thank the deities for a healthy child.
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From a photographic point of view, the monkeys that hang around waiting for treats were the most attractive feature.
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Jumped off the bus tour at the Bird Park,which is a big area consisting of several netted-in areas creating “the world’s larges free-flight walk-in aviary.  Excellent photo ops.  A real treat to be among so many birds.
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Could not resist the pitch to have my picture taken with my choice of two birds.  I was told I could pat the black one, and he did seem to enjoy the attention.
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Another fare well dinner with cycling colleagues, this time in China town, around the corner from our hotel.
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Day 83 bus ride Teluk Intan to Kuala Lumpur

TDA decided to bus us into Kuala Lumpur, so I packed up my bike in the parking lot the night before, so that task would be over and done with.  I feel Ihave had enough biking, so I am ready to put the bike away for the winter.
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We got into KLin the morning, and thankfully our hotel rooms were ready for us, so I threw my stuff into the room and headed through Chinatown to explore the town.

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I had been warned that this is no a pedestrian-friendly town.   There must have been a period when it was desinged for walking around, because there are a lot of arcades providing shade in the heat of the day, but some of them are blocked by tables, merchandise, motorcycles,  or just walls to make people walk elsewhere.  Walking around at lunch time, I saw lots of office workers getting together to have lunch al fresco in a street restaurant.
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Went down to the Central market, which turned out to be a bunch of tourist souvenir shops.   So, I took a cab  up to the government-run crafts museum/stores, and found that to be a bit more interesting.  I managed to time the taxi ride and the museum for the moment when the skies opened up and the rain fell, so that I was able to walk over to the KLCC, which is the local name for the shopping centre at the base of the Petronas towers.  It is a huge, very western shopping centre;  lots of big brands, even Choppard and Burt’s Bees!  I found the chorus singing Christmas carols (White Christmas) completely out of place.
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Had a lovely dinner & drinks with a group of  riders to say good bye.  Am going to miss all these folks, as they head off to Malaka, and I take the bus to Singapore.
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Day 82 Ipoh to Teluk Intan 108 km

We were glad to see quite clear sky as we got ready to ride this morning.  No sign of rain!
We rode through Ipoh, and again we did not see any bouganvillea, so mystified as to why it was described as the bouganvillea city.  In the country, we do see nice bouganvillea bushes blooming in front of some houses, so they are in season.
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There is a typical type of store lining the streets of the towns.  They are two stories tall, with a  roof designed to contain vents.  Many of them have arched windows, and many have an archway over the sidewalk.  Very practical and good looking.
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The ride was among plantations and rice paddies, all very flat land, so not scenically special, but we spotted a pack of monkeys sitting on the hydro power lines.  When we stopped to shoot pictures of them, they quickly disappeared in the busy; too quickly, we couldn’t get our cameras out fast enough.
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Otherwise fairly typical sights on the road; a number of mosques and a couple of Hindu temples, lots of wooden houses, and always people going about their business.  There were many stalls along the road selling Durans, a fruit about the size of a coconut, but with spiky skin, and a very strong smell.  In fact, they smell so strong that several of our hotels have had signs on the front doors telling customers not to bring durans into the hotel!